Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) 4.71/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 86.4
Genre: Adventure
Duration: 138 mins
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd

One of the most exhilarating movie going experiences, Weir’s adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s novels is a breathtaking adventure of tactical warfare set on the high seas of the early 1800′s. Russell Crowe is magnificent as Captain Aubrey, a well learned and seasoned battle commander who must balance his concern for his men, his duty to his country, and his respect for his closest friend with his mile-long competitive streak. Sailing off South America, his HMS Surprise becomes embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse with a heavily armed French frigate whose Captain initially proves more than a match for Aubrey.

Aubrey’s friendship with the ship’s surgeon (played wonderfully by Paul Bettany) is the backbone of the story and it adds sincere touches of poignancy to the two and a half hour long pursuit. Their relationship becomes a reference point for the rest of the dynamics on board either through their explicit conversations regarding the morale of the crew or more implicitly as Aubrey’s interactions with the rest of his men are contrasted with the openness of those moments he shares with his friend. Their nightly music sessions where they sit down to their string instruments much to the bemusement of the crew are serene in quality and Weir softly unfolds some stunning aerial and underwater photography against these beautiful sounds. Yes, this is much more than an action film. This is everything Terrence Malick brings to the table but with a tangible story to get our teeth into. That and some of the most stunning action ever filmed.

Director Peter Weir, perhaps the most consistently great director of the past 30 years, redefines this outmoded genre into something more explosive than even most sci-fi flicks offer. Favouring live action stunt work over CGI and being as bold with his direction as John McTiernen was in his prime, this is nothing short of an action showcase. There has simply never been a series of better conceived, shot, and acted battle sequences such as those which are on display here with the climactic battle being utterly mind-blowing. That said, as astonishing as the choreography of the battle scenes is, it’s the battle of wits which proves most compelling in Master and Commander, as Aubrey finally meets and must out-think an enemy as crafty as he is. It’s these compelling mind-games which set the scene for those battle sequences and make them all the more thrilling because the audience becomes invested in the plans and tactics of the cunning captain. Master and Commander is an extraordinary achievement and perfectly illustrates why an action film should always remain, first and foremost, a film. There’s a spirit to this film which is not only in keeping with the majestic series of books they are based on but with the spirit of cinema itself.

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